The Chicago Bulls were eliminated from the playoffs by LeBron James yet again last week, and it has led to questions being asked of Tom Thibodeau’s future.
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Thibodeau has been one of the most successful regular season coaches in the NBA since taking charge of the Bulls back in 2010, and he is rightly regarded as one of the best in the league.
In turn, it won’t be difficult for him to find a new job as speculation has already linked him with posts around the NBA with the New Orleans Pelicans and Orlando Magic among the front-runners.
However, he has arguably reached the natural end of his tenure in Chicago and coupled with his on-going issues with the front office, it feels as though it would be the right time for all parties concerned to move on.
This year was supposed to be different. The Bulls had numerous factors in their favour heading into the post-season, primarily the fact that they had a deeper and more talented roster than ever before.
Pau Gasol arrived to bring experience and a crucial third scoring option, Jimmy Butler evolved into an All-Star and Derrick Rose recovered from his injury woes to become the protagonist that Bulls fans had hoped he would be the previous three years.
In addition, the Cavs were without Kevin Love who was out with a dislocated shoulder suffered in the first round of the playoffs, while Kyrie Irving was struggling with knee and foot issues and was far from 100 percent.
Ultimately, Cleveland were there for the taking. Despite all those aspects being stacked in their favour, Chicago still couldn’t overcome LeBron and eventually fell to a disappointing and highly frustrating 4-2 series loss.
Balancing defense and offense
Thibodeau’s defensive identity in this team has been ebbed away as they arguably became more comfortable knowing that they could score more heavily than before with so many options on the court.
While that deserted them, the Bulls coach couldn’t get the best out of an offense that should easily have been destroying teams this season when at full strength, and especially against an under-strength Cavaliers team.
The Bulls have two of the best passing big men in the game in Gasol and Joakim Noah, and yet they were unable to strike up chemistry and only produced glimpses of what they were capable of with their link-up play inside.
The likes of Butler and Rose had far too many isolation plays as ball movement was not used effectively enough. Again, Chicago showed flashes with Rose and Noah on the pick-and-roll while the former MVP linked up well with perimeter players to give them open shots from beyond the arc.
The talent and ability to play that style was there, but Thibodeau didn’t make the most of it and by falling out of the post-season in the conference semi-finals, he has given the organisation another reason to fire him.
It is no secret that he has clashed with them over several things in recent years, and essentially, if a compensation package is presented to them which convinces them to allow him to leave despite having two years left on his contract, then it is just a matter of time before they split.
The question is not about whether or not Thibodeau is good enough to coach the Bulls, he is more than good enough. Instead, it is about finding a coach that is a better fit for this team and one that can build on his defensive philosophies by adding better efficiency and a bigger threat offensively to take this team to the next level. Who is the right coach? It is still unclear, but Alvin Gentry is certainly worthy of being a front-runner at this stage.